Montag, 15. Juli 2019

Goodbye Andy

The first European tour of the Anglo German Low Stars in 2001 ( is, to quite some extent, responsible for what I'm doing now for many years. Formative. Touring, writing songs, collaborating with wonderful artists I come across. It was then when I met Andy Keeble first. Fiddler with Grae J Wall. My first longer tour performing solo and alongside like-minded songwriters/musicians in a loose and slightly chaotic collective. Most of them people I hardly knew or just heard of prior to meeting for our first show in Berlin. Among them Andy. Without him I suppose that whole four week stint wouldn't have been what it turned out in the end - an inspiring moment in life and the birth of numerous ideas, projects and - most of all - long-lasting friendships.
Andy made us smile when there was no reason to smile, crackin a joke when things got too tense and most importantly - encouraged me to keep on going my way as a performer/songwriter just by doing his thing and being an example. For four consequent years we were touring in that lose line-up varying from four to eight artists. As touring is what it is there were both magic and exhausting moments, good times and difficult times. What made me keep going was this cheerful chap from St Albans. What a friend.

After the last Low Stars tour we regularly met when I was playing the UK, either sharing stage with The Trailer Trash Orchestra, Los Chicos Muertos, popping into Bill's Blue Angel Acoustic Sunday or just hangin out and chatting about over a couple of drinks. So many memories... Playing pinball the whole night after a Kulmbach show, Andy showing me around gardens in Hertforshire he took care of, having my first ever full English with him in Portsmouth. The night we spent talking, talking, talking till dawn in that trailer he used to live in then somewhere near Luton.
I never gave up hope Andy would make it over to the mainland for a tour together. Revisiting the places we played before, exploring new ones, going crazy and making friends with new people. Spending time on the road with one of the best mates you can be on tour with. It's not going to happen. A bleedin shame.

I'm glad he found the time to contribute some fiddle to my last album early 2018, and we had the opportunity to perform together in London this year February. Means a lot to me. Hope they're well-stocked up where we'll probably meet next. There'll be time for a decent bottle to share, brother. I know you'd like that. Bye Andy.

Fürth, 12 July 2019

Dienstag, 7. Februar 2017

Miracle healing. Southern France 2016.

During the last show I played with Grae J. Wall in Catalonia the problem occurred the first time. Middle of the gig the guitar pickup had these annoying drop outs. No sound - sound - no sound... Bloody mess. Left for Toulouse to play the Les Pavillons Sauvages, worried the whole thing would turn out a disaster just due to some technical issues. Fortunately it didn't. In fact maybe one of the best shows I had the pleasure to play 2016. For some reason the guitar worked all through the show, there was a fantastic crowd, I shared the evening with two most amazing acts (Koonda Holaa and Hilton) and the sound was just perfect. Surprisingly I didn't even fuck up my playing. The Les Pavillons Sauvages family took care of me in a way you don't really get to experience very often on tour. I owe you. A lot.

Had a stroll along the Canal du Midi in the afternoon. I was walking towards two plain-clothes police officers walking a young woman away from one of the locks. There were another two uniformed officers obviously examining the scene, a medic followed the two policemen with the lady. She had a Mia Farrow kind of look to her, a tattoo on her arm, maybe the left one, looking terrified, staring at some spot somewhere behind me. I thought she should have been trembling but I think she wasn't. She looked like someone who had just seen or discovered something really terrible, something unspeakably scary, something not meant to be seen by anyone. It was a dim, mid-November afternoon, not particularly cold or warm. I remember there was some Italian chanson or schlager from some open window from across the canal adding a surreal soundtrack to the whole scenery.

As the following day was off I went to see two guitar shops for fixing my guitar. Paprika's Workshop had a look at it but couldn't help as they were up to their neck in work, the other one, Fred's Guitar Parts, was equally helpful but had no spare part for the out-of-phase switch being apparently the trouble maker that cut off the signal as soon as I touched it. Advise: well, can't do anything about it now on such short notice but...erm... maybe just don't touch it. There you are!
Checking the route to my next show in Tarbes I realized this little town in the south of France is just about a 30 minutes ride away from Lourdes. It may sound silly but that's the kind of thinking you inadvertently get into being on tour. "What's good for the blind and the crippled can't be bad for Mäkkelä's guitar." is what I thought... You might figure what I was hoping for.

I drove there. I parked the car. I felt a bit stupid about the whole idea so I didn't take the guitar out of the car. Instead I walked down towards the St Bernadette church or grotto or whatever it is behind it's massive iron gate. I've been told about endless rows of water tabs where one can fill own bottles for some take-away holy water for home healing business. Unfortunately I didn't have a spare bottle on my walk down the hill in the old town of Lourdes. Down the deserted main drag of Bernadette merchandise wonderland, past closed memorabilia shops, through the drizzle, across the river... This was like a film set of some weird road movie. I took a photo of the gate with the Bernadette fountain behind it, at least I assume that's what it's called, turned around and walked back. That's when I spotted what's very likely one of the biggest merchandise supermarkets I've seen all my life. All kind of useful things you would like to take home from your pilgrimage. Candles all sizes, snow globes all sizes, Bernadette shaped bottles (didn't find the dildo shaped ones I've been told about), both filled with water and empty in a broad variety of qualities and makes, a huge selection of things I don't know what they're for, a dashboard-pope and to my big surprise also a dashboard-Mr Bean, the latter in the bargain section. If you ever get there have a look at the Palais du Rosaire. Highly recommended. And still, please believe me, I'm not taking the piss here. It's just yours truly stumbled into a slightly surreal scenery totally new to him. And yes, there was still that thought something around here might help me with my guitar. I did spend about 18 Euros in holy merch for which I got a surprising lot of things including a very small vial with sacred water. Picked up my car and headed for Tarbes. On the drive, mulling over the afternoon, I had to admit my belief has apparently got it's limits. No, I wasn't going to pour the water on my guitar. If that healing power was strong enough just the effort of going there, willing to believe in it, should be enough. Even though I turned out too much of a sceptic at the end of the day.


Tarbes. I like Tarbes. I liked it from the moment I bought my first parking ticket there. A bargain. I liked it when I saw the Celtic Pub Is Not A Pub where I was about to perform in with all its posters of a surprising lot of bands I either know or played with before. I liked it when I walked through town and saw the shop window with the penguins and seagulls. I seriously started to love it when the sound was brilliant, JL the bar owner turned out to be a wonderful bloke, the audience was well into what I did on this Friday night and it was packed. You wouldn't expect this in a small town in the south of France. As little as on that very evening the young guy from Hamilton, Ontario probably expected a Finnish-German songwriter playing "End of me", a song written by Wax Mannequin, an artist from his home town and chatting about just recently strolling down James Street N. and having played a gig at the This Ain't Hollywood. Ended the evening with a stiff Picon Bière.

You should also know I'm still brooding about the fact my guitar worked perfectly ok for that night and all the rest of the tour. So...

Donnerstag, 2. Februar 2017

2016. Germany - France - Scandinavia - Baltics - Poland.

Started slowly in January, performing solo at Egersdörfer & Artverwandte (a fantastic, indescribably bizarre variety/comedy show), supported The Vibrators with The Très Biens, had a most enjoyable 30 minutes feature on BR2 radio in February, first recording sessions for the new album were made with Isi on double bass, Max on drums, Christopher on Sax and Andy of the Goho Hobos on Mandolin and Accordion. What a band! Mixed "Harbour Town" for the digital single release (featuring the wonderful Nightbird who co-wrote the song) plus the "flip side", a rendition of Geoff Berner's "Whiskey Rabbi" with Mr Curley Kauper on harmonica. Played two unforgettable solo shows in France (Strasbourg and Lille) in early April before setting out with Isi Roessler on double bass for the German leg of my tour with Nightbird from Finland. Two magic weeks. From Sarreguemines in France across the south-west and south of Germany it was sheer pleasure. Thanks to all the promoters who booked us there. But listen up now! Whenever things look brightest be prepared for fate taking some of it's funnier twists. It all looked just perfect in early May: from 18 May until 16 June, a nicely booked tour, not necessarily the best paid one but still OK, lay there like a red carpet just waiting for me to walk it down all the way from Germany across Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and back to Germany again. Some grants to our credit (helpful as the last nine shows were in full band line-up), distances not too rough, all pretty close to what I'd call well organized. Sounds awesome, eh? Well, it was. For the first 24 h least. In retrospect, I don't think there hasn't been a tour I ever been closer to just stop the car, do a u-turn and drive back. That must have been around day six. How come? Maybe a short summary of the first six days can explain this...

Wednesday, 18 May
Meeting with Grae J Wall & Los Chicos Muertos in a wonderful middle-of-nowhere village in the south-west of Germany for a first show. All good. Felt somewhat like playing that indomitable Gaul village. Smooth and pleasant start.

Thursday, 19 May
Ah... Houston, we've got a problem here! This town's name is Kassel which has got one of the best cake shops in Germany which is good. Unfortunately the promoter's buddy set the facebook event to secret so apart from him and Mr Mäkkelä nobody really knew there was a gig... Well, shit happens. Been fed, watered, put up for the night and paid some gas money. Fair enough, thanks. Really.

Friday, 20 May
Off. Kassel to Copenhagen in one go seems a bit too ambitious. So let's drive to the north end of Germany/south end of Denmark find a cheapo Air B&B, take a little rest, sleep and continue relaxed and refreshed. Good plan. In theory. That whole idea appears to be not half as relaxing once you manage to lose the key to the room, unfortunately a master key for the whole bloody students flat, few seconds after receiving it. Results in extra expenses of EUR 250.-

Saturday, 21 May
Back in business. Just a tiny little streak of bad luck. Let's look ahead! Copenhagen is waiting. Last shoppings done in Germany: chocolate, tobacco, few bottles of wine. Things largely unaffordable in most of Scandinavia. Prepared. But hey what's that? What is that big, black, brand new BMW giving me signs on the Danish motorway? What's wrong here? Unmarked police car? Well, maybe better stop on the hard shoulder. This is getting even weirder now... There's a young man in a cheap blue blazer, jumping out of the car rushing wildly gesticulating towards my vehicle... "Man, I'm in trouble! Need your help!" "Sorry?" "Give me 100 EUR! I'm running out of petrol and have to sell this car to some really rough Russian guys in Copenhagen today! PLEASE! You take my gold chain, smart phone, wristwatch, everything! PLEASE!" "Sorry, mate. I'm really broke myself. Can't help, really!" (he's checking the car and apparently realizes there might be some truth in what I just said) "So, what about the chocolate?" "Erm... sorry? What chocolate?" "For the kids! The chocolate!" (I'm really confused now) "What kids? What chocolate?" He grabs the big pack of Kinder chocolate from the seat, runs back to his car and off he goes. Wow. This is weird. Apparently I just became the victim of the first chocolate robbery I heard of. In Denmark. Right on the motorway. Will have to think
about this for a while I suppose. Few minutes later the call comes in from Copenhagen the main act of the evening has to cancel for tonight. Means the band that was supposed to pull at least some crowd will not be there for the door rated show. I'm a bit worried. I'm not even in Sweden and things already look kinda shitty...

Sunday, 22 May
Well, Copenhagen is a nice city. Let's leave it to that. I wasn't robbed and they gave me free drinks at the venue. I'm sure the sky will clear up now. Leaving for Sweden, a safe and sound country with a strong and organized police force, maybe the safest place in Scandinavia. Going to meet Nightbird in Gothenburg for our first show together. Will be very likely completely broke after paying the toll for the bridge but that's it! Now the merch sales will increase, the Swedes are friendly and generous and the weather seems to be alright. It turns out there is no point in parking a car out in the street in Gothenburg. Also, the hostel guys recommend to pay few crowns extra for the basement car park. Not much more than out on the street and much safer of course. Done. Sorted. We're early, so Nightbird and me have a little stroll down to the venue which looks... erm... not really very open. In fact this place looks absolutely dead. But, as I said, we're really early. Nightbird calls the promoter and...: "Oh no! You guys are the only ones I forgot to inform. We're closed since today for renovations for the next three weeks. There won't be a gig tonight. But maybe you can call this and this number. They might put you guys up on short notice...." This seems to all follow a certain logic. This streak seems to last a bit too long for my liking. Even though on short notice We surprisingly end up with a replacement show in a lovely venue named Pustervik. Dragging our gear back to the hostel after the show I start feeling kind of optimistic we're back in track now. Waking up late morning I realize I'm out of tobacco. No problem - there's enough in the car. Just down the stairs in the garage. The same car where there is the emergency stash of red wine, my fresh t-shirts, panties, all this. The same car that is parked safely for 150 Swedish Crowns in a car park off the terribly expensive and dangerous streets of Gothenburg. The very car I'm just now looking at, intensely trying not to believe what I'm staring at. Part of my brain just doesn't want to accept the fact that the nearside door lock is dangling from it's designated position in a most unfamiliar way on a thin lead. Houston, we... Fuck. Sorry for using swear words. That could have been the moment for packin it in. It's been a close call. As shitty the situation was, at least no instruments or valuables were in the car and the guys who broke in had apparently unusual preferences. They didn't nick the case with mics and leads. They left all the merchandise apart from a box of 7" eps "Single Of The Year". They took all the tobacco (of course), all the red wine (of course), a bloody cell phone charger for EUR 5.- (why on earth?), an old suitcase with t-shirts, panties, socs (well,...), my old black suit (that wasn't fair) and my old tour jacket with all the badges I collected en route (may you rot in hell for that).

Monday, 23 May
Sightseeing. Mainly Gothenburg police department. Might be worth coming back, the officer were really interested in what kind of stuff I'm playing. So much about the less fortunate bit of this year's touring season. The overall situation slowly improved after this, i.e. moving on towards Finland was sort of easy to handle. Getting on the boat in Stockholm (after a lovely Tuesday, playing an afternoon show at the TWANG!) had no more difficulties to offer than two cancelled shows prior to entering the cuntry. Ooops. Sorry for that. Don't get me wrong - we had some really pleasant shows in Finland. Surprisingly enough we found on very short notice replacements for the gigs that fell through. Thanks a lot for helping us in HKI (House Of Love) and Turku (Sointu)! Vastavirta, Tampere and Vakiopaine, Jyväskylä plus the one I played in Rovaniemi with Otto Mikkola were particularly amazing. Had a fun afternoon visiting Radio Helsinki with Nightbird for a little interview at Njassa's show. People who turned up for the shows were great and seemed to really like what we did. Enjoyed meeting friends again I haven't seen in a while made up for a lot of trouble even though I think this can be done with less effort by just flying over. But still there is something in the back of my mind that keeps on nagging that more and more promoters/venues up there seem to fancy the concept of seeing artists like some sort of aggravating, exotic life form turning up primarily to reduce the venues liquid inventories and thus should not be treated too friendly.

So let's move on to the Baltics. Kultuuriklubi Kelm in Tallinn, Estonia was a lovely place to perform in. The nights bill looked promising: Mäkkelä solo, two progressive/post-rock bands from St Petersburg and a local headliner. I wasn't surprised to hear the local headliner cancelled on short notice. Business as usual. As the two young lads in whose flat I was supposed to stay the night were in party-mode full-on I decided to leave town right after packing up in the wee hours and drive straight to Liepaja in Latvia. Ambitious go but not feasible. It's a nice drive, probably even nicer in daylight. Made it almost down to Riga for a little nap on the Baltic Sea shore. The exciting bit started from there. If you ever happen to make it there by car be prepared that main roads or roads classified as A-Roads are not necessarily asphalted roads. This might take more time than you would expect after checking your road map or following instructions of your GPS. You won't regret it though as you will see herons, cranes, foxes, storks and all kind of wild animals both on the roadside or just crossing the road without giving too much of a fuck on who or what is just coming their way. Exciting! I liked that. As much as I liked the people at the Ideju Bode and Martins the guy who organized the show. Very special in a lot of ways, very rewarding concert. Among my favourite places 2016.
Hope to catch up some day soon.

Biala Poslaska. The least I would have expected was a vegan restaurant in the very east of Poland, not too far from the Belorussian border. Neither would I have expected to play a wonderful show there on an early Sunday evening. Before I came here the first time with Ozzmond I had to look it up on Google. Not the place you would regularly travel through I suppose. Not really on a main route to anywhere but one of the most welcoming places I've been to. Some of the nicest people there I met on tour. Very special. If playing there was like diving into a strange and friendly new universe the first time in 2015, this time it was touching the hearts of an audience and being touched the same time. In the unlikely event you're coming through town, look for some Karma. You'll find it. And you'll know what I mean.

They took away the great balloon. The one you can have a ride with for a few Sloty. They would let you rise up into the clear blue sky for a sight across town. Maybe further. I didn't go there. I just saw it up there and it was enough of a promise to make me come back. One day, I thought, I'd take a ride. Missed it. Got the best ice cream in town instead and a walk on the bank with Michal and Paula. She said "I don't think I'll ever go back. I became too European living here." I think I understand. Firemen on a mission blocked the road next to the bridge we took across the river, with our ice cream, with life being sweet, strawberry flavoured and easy for a little while in the sunshine, the sculpture of a pig in the middle of the mighty stream. I could set there, watch it flow, not let go of a fist full of bliss while time would just stop for a little while. There is something about rivers I can't name.